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“Living things adapt not necessarily by being genetically endowed to function well in a particular environment, but they actually modify the environment to themselves…adaptation…is a two-way street: animals and organisms adapt to environments, but they also adapt environments to themselves,” says J Scott Turner, physiologist, professor, and author who focuses his work on the intersection between physiology, evolution, ecology, and adaptation. He’s best known for his research on macrotermis microceni, an African species of termite that adapts its environment to serve its own physiological needs—the prime example being the mounds they form, which quite literally function as lungs for crucial gas exchange. This work triggered a whole series of questions that he’s pursued ever since, and he joins the podcast to discuss a few of them.

This compelling and intriguing conversation touches on a range of topics, such as the nature and role of organisms that construct and adapt their environments like superorganisms—including the ones in our gut, the meaning of animal architecture and what we can learn from it, the process of malignancy, the relationship between hereditary memory and function, the trainability of immune systems, and the fundamental questions of what physiology is and where it comes from.

Learn more about J Scott Turner’s work by visiting, and feel free to reach out with questions via email at

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